31 August, 2009

Budget Educational Travel (part one)

I have been nudged by a few people to write about taking tremendous trips on a budget. We don't take yearly family vacations and have been participating in what has come to be known as a "Staycation" before the term was ever coined. There are so many shortcuts that I'm sure I don't know about, but I can share some of the things we have done to save hundreds, even a thousand or more dollars on some wonderful and educational trips.

When we do travel, it is not to Disney or other typical or more common destinations that American families tend to take. Not that we look down on those types of trips, they are just not our personal 'cup-of-tea' so to speak. One exception to this was our family visit to Branson with my in-laws 6 or 7 years ago. However, since I lived in Missouri during my middle school and high school years, and have sung/performed in Branson/Silver Dollar City, and had my share of fun with childhood friends and family on many occasions, going back was more about taking the kids to some of my home territory.

Even then, we visited a wonderful used bookstore down near the wharf where I bought Shepherd of the Hills for the kids to read, so they could get a sense of the history of the Ozarks. Thus, the trip became more of a historical, natural, and literary trip, instead of just being about visiting a theme park for a few days. We spent some time down by the river doing free things, instead of filling up our time with purchasing tickets for one show after another. But I am getting ahead of myself, here.

Tip number One: Drive instead of flying, if applicable

~ obviously, you cannot drive to Australia, Europe, or Hawaii

~ If you have access to frequent flier miles ... use them!!

~ weigh the cost of taking your own vehicle versus renting. Our cars are paid for and we keep them tuned up, so we take our own vehicles most all of the time.

Tip number Two: Go where you've been before or go where you know someone who lives where you want to go.

~ By doing this, you have insights into the places only the locals know or care about, both historic and practical. Also, you may be invited to stay with family or friends in their homes for free. This also lowers the cost of meals. Offer to buy groceries with or for your host family or take them out to eat. Be a gracious guest.

~ Find cabins or campsites from which you can base your day trips. Tent camping is the cheapest, and once you get your own things and set-up/break-down duties organized, this is not even a nuisance. If you prefer, you can also rent motorhomes for your roadtrip! I don't know if that saves much over hotels or not. It is not our option of choice, so I cannot comment with good quotes, facts, or actual experiences of prices and quality. We've done camping cabins through KOA years and years ago, when it was just too cold or wet to set up a tent.

*** Pack a small cooler in your vehicle and buy groceries as you go. Drink lots of water instead of soft drinks. Buy healthier beverages on occasion, but for the most savings, drink water!

*** Take your own coffeepot and propane stoves to cook your own meals and coffee. There are times when in a time crunch that stopping at a gas station or local donut or coffee shop is worth the extra expense. When you are camping, the best use of your daylight time must be factored in to your budget of both time and money.

~ Consider staying in a youth hostel. I have not done this, but our son has, when he spent a summer in Scotland back in '07. My best friend also stayed in youth hostels when visiting England with her boys when they were young.

Tip number Three: Read multiple sources and do your research before you take your trip

By doing this, you can find more obscure museums and surprising exhibits that might be running for only a short time that you might not have found out about otherwise.

~ The internet can have the most up-to-date events. I say probably because some websites do not stay updated very well, so check dates on the site carefully.

~Travel guides are very helpful, and older Travel Journals or writings are great, if you take the time to plan several months in advance. You can read what some of our best-known authors wrote on their own travels, which adds a different layer to your trip, if you are so inclined. One of my favorites that I actually took with my daughter and me to Italy: John Ruskin writings and lectures on multiple topics, such as "Mornings in Florence" or Art and Architecture. Love doing that!

***Some of my other favorites are Rick Steves' travel guides and Frommer's. You can find good ones at used book and thrift stores, even current or near-current printings. $ saved, up to $25 dollars per book (by finding them in thrift stores).

***Travel guides for kids. I purchased some in Florence, Bologna, and Venice. These have more pictures and include neat facts, such as seemingly hidden walkways and architectural constructions where you can whisper in one corner of a little plaza and hear it in the other corner. If you are simply taking a bus tour of a famous city, you will miss these little side-excursions and adventures.

~ Who can calculate how much will be saved by learning where to buy a city pass, which allows you to by-pass long lines at museums and saves you money by paying a flat fee instead of one fee per person or per family at each new museum, park, or historical site. Similarly, in Europe, you can purchase a Eurail pass for a set amount of time, which can save you a lot of money by not having to buy individual train tickets. Similar things are available for tram tickets, bus tickets, etc.

Tip number Four: Take a GPS, if you have one, or borrow one from a friend. Our friend offered hers to us for our most recent trip to New England. While there is a learning curve which is rather frustrating, you can turn off the voice and figure out her short-comings and work around them. You can set these to pedestrian setting for walking tours. These also can suggest hotels and campsites, plus historic museums you may not have researched on the internet ahead of time.

Tip number Five: Be a chaperon with your children's school or youth group. While you may be limited in what you can tour and see, you will almost always get to go to some wonderful destinations, both in the US and abroad, either for free or half-price. Sometimes you can even arrange to stay on for extra time and return later, and sometimes even for the same price, if arranged before the tickets are purchased.

I'll stop there for now. Do send me your tips or questions that I can speak to in Part two of Budget Educational Travel. Stay tuned!


1 comment:

Sheila said...

great ideas, my friend!!

::waving at you::